In one of the most impressive showings of solidarity in recent history, at least since 1995, the quinquennial Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference concluded last week at UN headquarters in New York with the unanimous approval of a final document outlining ways to strengthen the current nonproliferation regime, while working to bring outliers and NPT defectors (namely, Iran and Israel) back into the fold. Pending release of the final version, a draft is available here.
This last point regarding Israel and Iran requires careful consideration. That the document was approved by all states, including the US, is a testament to the renewed international focus on nuclear weapons and security issues -- propelled, in my opinion, by President Obama more than any one other person. But particularly in the context of a planned followup conference in 2012 to discuss the feasibility and realization of an eventual Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, the explicit naming in the document of Israel as being a nuclear weapons state certainly ruffled some eagle feathers.
"Our view," said President Obama in his remarks at the conclusion of the Review Conference, "is that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential ... We strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel, and will oppose actions that jeopardize Israel’s national security."
Israel made a similar declaration, calling the statement coming out of the Conference "deeply flawed and hypocritical."
Yet Iran, whose work on its suspect nuclear program continues unabated and which represents in the eyes of the US the greatest threat to a Middle East NWFZ, was not mentioned explicitly anywhere in the final document.
With this in mind, and given both the over- and undertones of US foreign policy in the Middle East, especially vis-à-vis Israel and Iran, it is certainly interesting and impressive that the American delegates to the conference were able, in the eleventh hour, to agree to the statement and pass it unanimously with the other 188 participatory nations at the Conference. Rather than oppose the document or even abstain from the approval process (though I'm not sure if that was an option), the US delegates chose to demonstrate solidarity and pass the document as it stood, with its explicit mention of Israel and lack of even passing reference to Iran.
This was a very smart move on the part of the Obama administration. From a long-term policy perspective, the Review Conference was never an end in itself. Over a month in advance of the conference, Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk called it "a critical milestone in the broader international effort to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime."
So with the final hours winding down, and with Egypt and the US going back and forth over mention of Israel, the Americans capitulated. Better to demonstrate unanimity and solidarity with the international community at the conference, and let the President and his Israeli equivalent take care of damage control afterwards.
Considering this is only the third time in Review Conference history that all member states have emerged with a consensus statement, this year was highly significant.
We're looking forward to 2015 already.